Mitchell on Draft snub: 'I know the teams'

March 27th, 2021

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It worked for Aaron Rodgers. Will playing with a chip on his shoulder similarly benefit top Brewers prospect ?

Like Rodgers, who went 24th overall to the Green Bay Packers in the 2005 NFL Draft, Mitchell fell to the Brewers at No. 20 overall in the MLB Draft last June. The talent was not in question; Mitchell was a star outfielder at UCLA. The concern was his Type 1 Diabetes, a condition Mitchell has managed since he was in the third grade.

But the Brewers drafted him anyway, and now they can dream more than ever on Mitchell’s future potential. He’s had a sensational Spring Training -- hitting .379 with a 1.006 OPS in 29 at-bats entering Saturday -- that’s even more impressive when you consider that the 22-year-old didn’t play baseball at all last summer.

"I ended up in the place and with the organization that wanted me the most,” Mitchell said. “Trust me, I know the teams, I know the players that went before me. I keep that in the back of my mind as a little bit of fuel to know never to be satisfied. I try not to focus too much on that, but it's definitely a nice reminder to know that every day you go out there, you're for the most part facing a team that decided to skip out on you."

He had all last summer to think about it. Mitchell’s final collegiate season at UCLA was cut short in March by the COVID-19 pandemic, and he wasn’t among the young prospects assigned to the Brewers’ alternate training site. When Mitchell finally got the chance to play in Milwaukee’s fall instructional league, his action was limited to four games because of a minor quadriceps injury.

This spring, he made up for lost time. Here are some of Mitchell’s highlights:

• He smacked a hit in his first at-bat of his Brewers debut on March 1, a loud single off D-backs left-hander Taylor Guilbeau that left the bat at 109.7 mph, according to Statcast. The only ball hit harder in that game was Daniel Vogelbach’s 112.1 mph groundout.

• On March 13 against the Rangers, Mitchell hit his first spring home run, a solo shot with two strikes against Rangers right-hander Kyle Cody. At that point, Mitchell was off to a 7-for-13 start in Cactus League play with one double, one homer, two walks and a slew of loud outs, prompting Brewers manager Craig Counsell to say, “He’s earning playing time.”

• The next day, Mitchell’s speed was on display when he raced to first on a routine ground ball to Mariners second baseman Jordan Cowan and turned it into an infield hit. Cowan threw up his hands in frustration.

• That hit was off a right-hander, but Mitchell, a left-handed hitter, impressed all spring with his success against lefties. Entering Saturday, seven of his 11 hits are off southpaws.

“You think there would be some rust there,” said Brewers regional scouting supervisor Josh Belovsky, a longtime follower from Mitchell’s days with Milwaukee’s Area Codes team in California. “That’s impressive what he’s doing. He’s such a freaky athlete. That’s the one thing I could always say about this guy.”

Belovsky sees some similarities in the mindsets of Mitchell and his longtime friend Brice Turang, who is No. 2 on MLB Pipeline’s Brewers prospects list.

“They’re guys who are humble, but they also are confident, if that makes sense,” Belovsky said. “It’s like a young [Ryan] Braun, they think they belong there. I think that’s half the battle.”

Said Counsell: “We tried to test [Mitchell] a little bit and show him a little bit about what the next level has to offer. I think he’s proven some things to himself. He’s learned, as much as anything, the structure of a day and of a season a little bit, the consistency that’s required of it. But there’s no question he’s an incredibly talented young player, and there’s also no question he’s got a lot of work to do, a lot of things to get better at.”

Mitchell is in the group of extra players traveling with the Brewers next week to Arlington for a pair of exhibition games against the Rangers, then to Milwaukee. While the big league team begins the regular season, the extras will work out at American Family Field until April 12, when the alternate training site opens at the home of the Class A Advanced Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

Brewers officials told Mitchell he will play with the alternate-site group for a bit, then return to Phoenix for Minor League Spring Training. His regular season destination is to be determined, but it would be no surprise if the Brewers skip Rookie ball and send Mitchell straight to one of their Class A clubs.

“This has been the easy part, frankly,” Counsell said. “The hard part comes when there’s not as many eyes watching and you’re not facing Walker Buehler. That’s almost harder. That part is coming.”

If Mitchell keeps it up, there might be some clubs around the game rethinking their decision to pass on him in the Draft over those concerns about Diabetes.

“That was the only reason we had a chance to get him, that teams weren’t comfortable with that,” Belovsky said. “We had done a lot of work back when he was in high school on that because there weren’t a lot of everyday players who had Type 1 [diabetes]. There were some pitchers. But we did work on his routine and went as extensive as what we would do on the road and all those things. It was a lot of legwork that Roger [Caplinger, the Brewers’ longtime medical director] and his team put into it. The groundwork had been laid 3-4 years ago.”

The A’s drafted Mitchell in the 14th round in 2017 out of high school, but he didn’t sign. That gave the Brewers another chance three years later, during a summer Mitchell spent mostly at home with his family and girlfriend Haley Cruse, a University of Oregon softball player and TikTok star.

“I spent a lot of time at home not doing a lot,” he said. “Spent a lot of time thinking, and as a baseball player it definitely can get in your head sometimes when you spend a lot of time away from the field -- especially when it comes to your abilities and not being able to put them to the test or being able to play against other guys. You start to question having done enough, are you good enough, things like that.

“A weird year like 2020, after getting drafted and not being able to play, I sat there questioning like, ‘What will I be able to do once I get back out there on the field and get myself back into baseball shape?’ So, I played that mental game with myself, but I also know what that mental game looks like, so I tried to stay easy on myself in that sense.”

How will he keep his energy up in the Minors?

“I think it’s the idea that I’m not satisfied; there’s way more to go,” Mitchell said.

There’s also the matter of proving those 19 teams made a mistake by letting him slip by.

“Yeah, he feels a little slighted,” Belovsky said. “We’re OK with that.”